A letter from Francis Jackson to Lydia Maria Child about Thomas Sims, who was arrested and re-enslaved under the Fugitive Slave Law, 1860.

Francis Jackson was an abolitionist in Boston and an active member of the city’s Vigilance Committee, which had been established to resist the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. Thomas Sims was a formerly enslaved man who was arrested under the auspices of this law and returned to slavery from Massachusetts. For Harriet as well as her brother, the Fugitive Slave Law made arrest and return to enslavement an ever-present threat. In 1852, Harriet’s employer purchased her freedom, making her legally free and protecting her from the reach of the law.


Dear Friend,
Your letter of Aug. 31 was duly rec’d [received] requesting me to give you some facts about Thomas Sims. I will do so with pleasure -- Sims was a mulatto man about 23 years of age, a mason by trade, he was claimed by James Potter of Savannah as his slave -- was arrested in Boston on the 10th of April 1851 by the notorious Asa O Butman & other Policemen then in the employ of the City authorities of Boston, who at the time, falsely charged him with stealing a watch -- not of the U.S. officers assisted in the arrest of Sims -- he was imprisoned in the City Court House. had what was called his trial there, after which the whole Police force of the City under the command of the City Marshall took him down the Long Wharf, & put him on board the Brig Acorn. Capt. Combs bound for Savannah -- the Mayor of the City gave orders to have a regiment of Infantry on duty quartered in Faneuil Hall commanded by Genl [General] Edmands (Edwards?) (a member of the Baptist Church,) and also 1500 of the first Merchants & others volunteers to assist Marshall Sukey. This Regt [regiment] was derisively called & long known as the Sims Brigade.

These facts of the rendition of Sims, are more fully & minutely stated in the testimony of Mayor Bigelow. Marshal Sukey and others, taken under oath before a committee of the Legislature (see the Senate document of the Mass Legislature No 89: also the annual report of the City Auditor for 1851-52 Page 48 which states that it cost the City 2996.95 to enslave Sims. In less than three months after, these same City authorities celebrated the Declaration made at Philadelphia on the fourth of July 1776, to wit: “that all men are born free & equal” by oration, Feasting sentiment & song by ringing Church bells, firing of cannon & the explosions of fireworks -- That crop of hypocrisy cost the City 6935.99[?] dollars, as may be seen on the 10th page of the City Auditors report before referred to -- page 10 and 48 in that City document give lie to each other flatly and costly.

At the time of the rendition of Sims, money enough was raised & pledged to ransom him, but Mr. Potter refused to sell him at any price, he demanded that the Case[?] should be executed & Sims should go back -- he wanted to humble Boston & he did most thoroughly -- A simple slaveholder of Savannah had all the City officials & Police force of the City, a Regiment of troops & 1500 volunteers of the first Merchants & other harnessed to his work at their own cost and he spurned their money.

In the Brig Acorn went poor Sims, guarded by Deputy Marshall Riley & seven other slave hounds, named Byrnes, Darwin, Russell, Coolidges, Clark, True & Dolliver -- they delivered their prey to Mr. Bacon, Potter’s overseer; he did not condescend to speak to them. Sims was taken to jail, whipt & kept in prison three months & became sick. -- The Physician who attended the inmates of the jail told Mr. Potter that Sims would die if he was kept much longer in prison -- he was then taken out and sent into the Country, where he soon recovered & hired out to work at his trade, with a man who treated him very badly, when Sims requested his Master sell him -- runaway slaves being very unsaleable where known he was sent to Charleston S.C. & consigned to one Moredecai a Jew broker for sale, who held him at 1200 dollars for some time without finding a purchaser. at length Mordecai bought him & shit him to New Orleans on speculations He was there sold to a man in Vicksburg a mason and Sims acts as his Boss & is an expert bricklayer --

While Sims was on sale in Charleston William J. Stevens of N.H. then doing business in Charleston had several interviews with Sims & became much attached to him, & had laid plans for his escape from slavery, but before they could be carried out, he was sent to New Orleans. These facts about Sims after he landed in Savannah, I had from Mr. Stevens, a very reliable & intelligent man, who now lives in West Newton Street & is a partner in business with my brother, Edmund Jackson in this City.

Mrs. Cornelia Sykes our sister of Sims now lives at No. 28 Irving Street, she corresponds with Sims. - she has shown me one of Sims letters dated at Vicksburg Sept. 1859 from which I made the following extract, “I hope you will remember me to those dear friends in Boston whose hearts bled with sorrow when I was sent away from that City, which I hope to reach again one day, if God spares my life, and join hands with them & struggle for my right to freedom. I am under a thousands obligations to them, for their kindness to me in the hours of my deepest distress. I hope I may yet have an opportunity to recompense them. I am constantly watched and oppressed by the man who owns me which makes my chances of escape very small. I don’t think he would sell me for less than about 1500 or 1800 dollars. Yet I do live in hopes of seeing those friends in Boston again.”

Since Senator Masons Fugitive Slave Bill was enacted in 1850, three fugitive slaves have been arrested in Boston, Shadrach, Sims, & Burns; Shadrach was rescued & Burns has been ransomed. Sims had as good a right to live in Boston as ever I had; are those who enslaved him going to let him died in slavery & they in their sins? And go up to judgment leaving their inhuman doings unattended and unrepented of?

Ever Yours, Francis Jackson